The 4 Most Common CV Problems (and what they say about you)

Meet Gregory, a writer and the brains behind Face Dragons. He's the go-to guy for getting things done. Gregory's been living the digital nomad life in Asia for as long as anyone can remember, helping clients smash their goals. He writes on topics like software, personal knowledge management (PKM), and personal development. When he's not writing, you'll catch him at the local MMA gym, nose buried in a book, or just chilling with the family.

I revised CVs as part of a previous job for five years and have reviewed, revised, and rewritten 1000s of CVs from recent graduates. During that time, I saw many (many!) issues, mistakes, and problems with candidates’ CVs.

So what are the four most common CV problems?

  • Formatting
  • Too Much Info
  • Too Long
  • Not tailor-made for this job

Formatting Problems

Without a doubt, the most common CV problem I saw was lousy formatting.

What it says about you

  • You don’t care
  • You’re lazy
  • Not detail-oriented
  • Unable to use essential software

Formatting issues plague graduate CVs. So much so that the line “Proficient with Microsoft Office” starts to look like a joke.

Tabs, Spaces, and Indents

It matters how you make your white space! Especially if you’re sending the CV in .dotx format (more on this later.) Spaces, tabs, and indents can all get you to the point in the line you want to be at, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter which you use. Be consistent! Otherwise, you end up with elements that can never seem to align precisely.
Bullet point size

Why do you have different size bullet points and can never seem to make them all the same? This is usually a problem of starting with a template and copying and pasting your content into it. It may have been created with a different version of Word or a different font. The solution is to create your CV from scratch.

Fonts and Font Sizes for a Beautiful CV

Maybe, just maybe, you could put your name in a different font (your name is your title, don’t write Resume or CV at the top; it makes no sense), but I wouldn’t recommend it. You want your CV to look unified, not a disjointed mishmash of different fonts like a 1990’s website. So use one font from top to bottom.

Your name should be big, and section headings can be slightly bigger than your text, but that’s it. Job titles, Company names, dates, etc., should all be the same size as your text font. Keep it simple and easy on the eyes. If you need to show something as important, use bold, that’s what it’s there for.

How to solve all your formatting problems

Create one huge table and set the borders to clear (so you can’t see it.) Everything will be perfectly in line, and you can easily add rows above or below anything as you update it.

Export to PDF

Unless explicitly told otherwise in the job description/application, send your CV as a PDF document. A PDF document is an unchangeable completed document. A .dotx is a work in progress. Also, as everyone is running different versions of windows and different versions of office, the formatting always looks a little different every time you open a document up on a different computer. Here in 2021, I still see places of work running Windows XP.

Sending a PDF document removes all these problems. Your CV will be seen exactly how you intended by whoever opens it.

Too much info

Another common CV problem is just writing too much.

What it says about you

  • You can’t differentiate between the core and the periphery
  • You lack decision-making skills
  • You lack writing skills

We’re not trying to write the next great novel here. Bullet Points!

Writing a paragraph for a bullet point like your writing an essay for your English teacher is a big no-no. It shows that you don’t know how to use a bullet point or distinguish the core information from the fluff.

  • After three months in this position, my boss gave me the responsibility of working the register. I took cash from customers and gave them receipts when they asked. I also gained experience taking payments via credit cards and checks.
  • In this position, I was responsible for receiving cash from customers, working the register, and giving receipts when necessary.
  • Responsible for working the register.

You don’t need to include every possible point in your CV. Writing a CV is an exercise in minimalism and essentialism. If you’ve written 5 points about your summer internship, you’re just saying you don’t know what is important and what isn’t.

But it’s all important!

This is often the rationale I hear when I tell clients they need to reduce the amount of content. My response? Even if that’s true, reduce it to no more than 3 points per work experience (of course, there are exceptions to these rules. For example, if you are moving to a competitor firm but doing the same job, you might want to include more of your previous responsibilities. In general, though, unless you have a good reason, include 3 points per work experience.)

Remove old jobs

You’re 35, and no one cares that you worked at McDonald’s when you were 16! You don’t need a history of every job you have ever had, especially if those jobs were long ago or unrelated to the job you are applying for. You should include all your recent jobs (past decade), but you don’t necessarily need to include bullet points with your responsibilities for everyone.

If you want to avoid a gap in your employment timeline, add the date and company. No one needs to see, “I was responsible for making McFlurrys and Milkshakes.”

Your CV is Too Long

What it says about you

  • You’re happy to burden colleagues rather than be decisive
  • You probably favor style over substance

Let’s be completely realistic here. If you are a fresh graduate, you don’t have enough information to fill a two-page CV. Sure, you can make a two-page CV and even fill it in, but much of the content is going to be irrelevant. You simply haven’t had enough experience to create two pages of CV-worthy content.

If your CV runs onto the third page and you have less than 20 years of working experience, you need to trim the fat.

Why? Because most people who read your CV aren’t going to actually read it!

HR will check your education level and see if you’ve had relevant experience (this will take them a few seconds to put you in the No or maybe pile.) An interviewer might look at your CV for a minute before you enter the room, especially if they have many interviews to do.

If your second page is less than half full, reduce it to one page. One page full of interesting content will give a better impression than the same page followed by a page two-thirds empty.

Not Bespoke

What it says about you

  • You’re lazy
  • You don’t care enough about this job
  • You might prefer a job in another field

Tailor-make your CV to fit with the jobs you are applying for. This may sound glaringly obvious, but I have seen many clients applying to Finance, Marketing, and Consulting roles, all with the same CV.

Creating one CV and using it for all your applications may make things easier initially, but you will regret it once the responses (or lack of responses) start coming in.

Create a bespoke CV

If you’re applying for a limited number of roles, make a CV for each role type. If you’re applying for different industries, create a CV for each industry. For example, a finance role will require you to highlight different skills and experiences from an IT role, so you need a tailor-made CV for each.

If you can avoid these four problems in your CV, it’s going to be better than most!